In re Brayden E.-H.

In re Brayden E.-H., et. al., 309 Conn. 642, 72 A.3d 1083 (2013)

Supreme Court of Connecticut

July 30, 2013

TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS, DUE PROCESS

The respondent mother appealed from the judgment of the trial court terminating the parental rights of her two minor children.  The Supreme Court of Connecticut transferred this appeal to itself from the Appellate Court and heard argument on it on the same day as In re Azareon Y., 309 Conn. 626 (2013), as similar legal questions were at issue and the same attorneys represented appellant and appellee in both cases.

In Brayden, respondent contends that the trial court violated her substantive due process rights under the federal constitution, or alternatively, the state constitution, because the trial court was required to determine that termination of her parental rights was the least restrictive permanency plan available to meet the best needs of the children.  Respondent submits that termination was not necessary, as permanent legal guardianship was sufficient to accomplish the best interests of the children, and ultimately that is the disposition that the trial court ordered.

The trial court terminated Mother’s parental rights based on evidence that she had an extensive history of abusing alcohol, becoming violent and out of control when she drank, a lengthy criminal history (including several arrests for violation of protection/restraining orders and violation of probation), and a chronic history of relapse and failed substance abuse treatment. The trial court declined to terminate father’s parental rights, and instead, granted permanent legal guardianship to paternal great aunt and uncle.

Mother preserved her constitutional claim for appeal by filing a motion for reargument after the trial court issued its decision, wherein she raised her constitutional claim and submitted a supplemental brief in support thereof.  The trial court rejected the constitutional claim and respondent appealed.  Although the issue was preserved, the Supreme Court declined to address the constitutional question for two reasons: 1) “as a jurisprudential matter, this court generally avoids an unnecessary determination of constitutional questions; and 2) it was “readily apparent from our review of the record that the respondent is not entitled to the relief that she seeks, we should reserve for another day the questions of whether substantive due process requires a determination that termination is the least restrictive means to protect a child’s best interest and, if so, whether §17a-112 violates that requirement.” The court concluded that it was clear from the record of the trial court that termination of mother’s parental rights served the best interests of the children, in that mother would be precluded from ever being able to petition for custody or visitation of the children or interfering with the guardianship of the paternal great aunt and uncle. Therefore, the trial court’s judgments were affirmed.

Zoe Stout (1/2014)

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